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Combat Journalism & The Ultimate Price: R.I.P Marie Colvin

by Sean Flynn
23 February 2012 1 Comment

Marie Colvin was killed yesterday in the Syrian capital, her work should live on as an example of what is right, good and honest in modern combat journalism..

“Journalists covering combat shoulder great responsibilities and face difficult choices. Sometimes they pay the ultimate price.”

When war correspondent Marie Colvin made these remarks; addressing an audience at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London back in November, 2010, she was speaking as the seasoned veteran of global conflict.

Since losing her left eye to shrapnel from a Sri Lankan army hand grenade in 2001, her black eye patch bore stark testimony to the courage of her convictions.   It may have lent her a swashbuckling demeanour but it’s clear she questioned constantly her motives and judgment in pursuit of the news: “We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?” she asked of her listeners in St Bride’s, as they remembered and paid tribute to the courage of their fallen journalistic comrades.

On 22 February 2012 in the Syrian city of Homs, Marie Colvin died as she had lived, shining the light of truth into the kind of dark corners that most of us don’t even visit in our worst nightmares. On that day alone, at least 80 people died in the ancient Syrian city at the hands of their country’s own armed forces.

It is not my place to write a detailed obituary; there are others better equipped than I for such an onerous task.  I write only as a humble reporter, mourning the passing of a great  and peerless practitioner of my trade.

On 22 February 2012 in the Syrian city of Homs, Marie Colvin died as she had lived, shining the light of truth into the kind of dark corners that most of us don’t even visit in our worst nightmares.

Colvin, and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed during shelling by Syrian forces loyal to increasingly beleaguered President Assad. According to The Telegraph, Colvin, working for the Sunday Times, was the only journalist from a British newspaper in Homs.

The makeshift media centre, where Colvin and other foreign correspondents had been sheltering, was in the city’s Baba Amr district which has been the focus of repeated shelling since the besieging of the city in early February.

The day before (Tuesday 21 February), Syrian citizen journalist Rami al-Sayed was also killed in Homs. His fearless video footage of the ongoing popular uprising has been used by networks all over the world.

At least two other members of the international press were also wounded in the attack according to reports from local activists. One was named as British freelance photographer Paul Conroy, who worked with Ms Colvin, and Edith Bouvier of the French newspaper, Le Figaro.

Since the besieging of Homs on 04 February, there has been growing concern among journalists in the city that Assad’s forces are locking onto their satellite phone signals and  then targeting the buildings that source the signals.

This suspicion is corroborated by Abu Abdu al-Homsi, a spokesman for the Syrian Revolutionary Council, an opposition group, in Homs, which maintains that phone lines into the city had been cut by the Syrian Army who were also bombing any buildings where they detected mobile phone signals.

Colvin didn’t pull her punches in Syria any more than she had in East Timor or Sri Lanka or Kabul or any other cauldron of conflict that was her ‘shop-floor’. In Homs she made no bones about the fact that the Assad’s troops are committing crimes against humanity: “the Syrian army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians,” she said.

Among her last stories was one filed for the BBC, and it is typical of her work; dispassionate, accurate reportage, yet brimming with empathy and compassion for the innocent victims of conflict. At a time when the integrity of the journalist’s trade has been sullied by dishonesty, criminality and corruption; when venal, banal celebrity and prurience are judged to be reason enough to risk the hard-won and hard fought for reputation of the fourth estate, Colvin’s example shines like a beacon.

Marie Colvin, Remi Ochlik and Rami al-Sayed, remind us what it really means to be a reporter; what it means to stand up, to speak truth to power, whatever the cost.

And let’s not forget that while we mourn the passing of a true heroine of our time, the people of Syria continue to suffer dreadfully. I never met Marie Colvin but I’m pretty damn sure that rather than eulogising her, she’d want us not to lose sight of the suffering of the innocents.

The last word however goes to Colvin herself, again speaking from the spiritual home of printing and journalism, St Bride’s Church just off Fleet Street in The City:

“In an age of 24/7 rolling news, blogs and Twitters, we are on constant call wherever we are. But war reporting is still essentially the same – someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can’t get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you. The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen. We do have that faith because we believe we do make a difference.”

Marie Colvin, born January 12 1956, died February 22 2012

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cloris leachman 2:38 pm, 23-Feb-2012

excellent article Sean Flynn, a moving tribute to Marie Colvin, her colleagues,indeed all those who have lost their lives in the course of seeking the truth,reporting the brutality, opression and injustice happening daily. Without them we would so often be ignorant of the true facts and corrupt regimes allowed to flourish unchallenged by public opinion.

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